4 March, 2024 ,

As part of the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP), the runway at Rothera Research Station has successfully been resurfaced by construction company BAM and the design completed by Ramboll. The station is a major hub for international science in Antarctica, and this significant achievement is a pivotal moment for BAS and the UK’s future polar research capabilities.

Construction vehicles on a runway surface with ice in the background.
Two roller vehicles and a grader vehicle stand on the runway at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica – 📷Credit: Ben Checkley, BAS

Originally constructed in 1990, the runway is important infrastructure that enables delivery of science in the deep-field of Antarctica. The newly resurfaced runway and new runway lighting delivers improved safety features for aircraft using the infrastructure with the project being completed over the course of two Antarctic seasons. This is as a result of collaborative planning between the AIMP partnership and BAS’ Operations teams to manage the associated impact and enable its successful delivery within the planned timescales.

Lighting on a runway with snowy mountains in the background.
New lighting on the runway at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica – 📷Credit: BAM

In support of effective ongoing operations and maintenance at Rothera, measures were introduced to improve drainage performance along the runway. A turning circle has been created at the South end to improve overall efficiency. In keeping with BAS’ longer-term net zero and sustainability aims, the runway was resurfaced using existing materials,  preventing the need to import materials and their associated carbon impact. It has since been used to facilitate trials of pilotless planes in support of scientific research and exploration, which will contribute to a future reduction in carbon emissions.

A short runway with snow covered ground to either side and snowy mountains and sea behind.
The upgraded runway at Rothera Research Station – 📷Credit: Jake Martin, BAS

Elen Jones, AIMP Programme Director, British Antarctic Survey, said:

“The completion of the runway resurfacing and lighting project at Rothera Research Station is an important milestone in the delivery of AIMP and is testament to the dedication and expertise of our collective teams across two seasons in Antarctica. The enhancements delivered will greatly support our strategic aim to provide and operate world-leading research infrastructure enabling scientists from the UK, and colleagues from other nations, to work safely and effectively in the polar regions.”

Natalie Wathen, Framework Manager, Ramboll, said:

“Congratulations to the team to complete such a milestone project at Rothera. The upgrades to the runway’s surface and lighting will be greatly beneficial on how Rothera operates going forward. Through the increased drainage, the new surface will reduce the risk of floods and ice build-up. This will in turn lessen the time to clear the runway surface in preparation to accept aircraft.”

Graham Hopper, Project Director, BAM, said:

“The benefits of the project have a wider impact than operations; safety has been enhanced on the runway for precision landing approaches. The energy efficient end lighting will clearly define the runway location in relation to sea ice, which will increase assistance to pilots. We have also built in additional ducting capacity beneath the runway for future infrastructure requirements where a runway crossing may be required such as for the Rothera Renewable Energy Project, part of our strategy towards net zero carbon.”

group of people standing on a runway by a consturction vehicle
The modernisation team standing on the recently upgraded runway at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica – 📷Credit: Jake Martin, BAS

The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP) is a long-term programme to support the UK’s polar research capabilities. Commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), AIMP will enable the UK to continue to deliver cutting-edge climate, biodiversity and ocean research and innovation in Antarctica. AIMP is delivered in partnership with BAM, Ramboll and Sweco.

Together with the commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, AIMP represents the largest Government investment in polar science infrastructure since the 1980s. Find out more about AIMP.